What is an herb?
Herbs are plants that can be used as seasoning, food, medicine, and even perfume. Before the invention of pharmaceuticals, our ancestors relied on herbal remedies to heal themselves. Now, most of the drugs we are prescribed originate from plants (Balch, XII).
Using Herbs for Wellness
While prescription and over-the-counter medications can be wonderful wellness tools, every drug available comes with a (usually lengthy) list of possible side effects. Herbal remedies, on the other hand, often have fewer side effects because they contain all the chemical components of a plant rather than just a copy of one component of that plant (Balch, XII). When used whole, the chemicals in a plant are able to balance one another and reduce the risk of side effects.
Herbs can be used on their own as preventative medicine or used with other drugs to complement traditional treatments. Herbs have been used to reinforce healing, ease unwanted side effects from prescription medications, and even enhance the effects of medications, allowing lower doses to be used (Balch, 3).
Alongside many other vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, herbs contain terpenes — the compound responsible for giving plants their smell and flavor. Terpenes are responsible for many of the therapeutic benefits of herbs. Read more about terpenes here.
Are herbs safe?
It’s important to remember that any substance with the power to heal also has the power to harm if it is misused. As with anything, you should always consult with a doctor before making changes to your medications or wellness regimens. While many herbs are generally considered safe, some can have interactions with other medications that you may be taking.
The biggest safety concern with herbs lies in their quality. Herbs are plants, but not all plants are grown equally. When sourcing your herbs, make sure that they have not been exposed to environmental contaminants or pesticides and that they have been properly stored; herbs that are not properly dried can have mold. Look for herbs that aren’t too faded and still have a noticeable aroma when opened — if you aren’t sure what to look for, Google an image before heading to the store! If possible, make a habit of purchasing local instead of imported herbs; often times, imported herbs must be radiated to be considered “safe,” and there’s a chance that the herb is very old.
Can I grow my own herbs?
Yes, but be sure to pay attention to the variety of plant you are growing! Some herbs, such as lavender, have many varieties, and not all are best for medicinal use (Hobbs, 50). Just because it’s growing naturally in your yard doesn’t mean that you should use it for medicinal purposes.
How can I use herbs?
There are endless ways to use herbs. At Hempsley, we focus on four of the major methods of herbal consumption:
- Ingestion: includes any method in which an herb is eaten, whether it is a capsule, tablet, lozenge, powder, tea, oil, syrup, or juice
- Mucosal: tinctures are created by soaking plant material in alcohol or glycerol and are then placed under the tongue to be absorbed through the mouth
- Topical: topicals include anything that is applied to the surface of the skin, such as oils, creams, salves, and lotions
- Inhalation: inhalation includes simply inhaling the aroma of a plant, diffusing, vaporizing, and smoking
Learn more about each method so that you can choose a product that is best for your specific needs
These Methods of Consumption Can Take on Many Forms
Plants are incredibly versatile, and science has given us the ability to use herbs in exciting new ways. To the right, we have created a quick-reference chart so that you can easily compare the available methods of consumption, nutrients, terpene potency, safety, and shelf-life of five different forms of herbs.
Choosing an Herb
There are hundreds of medicinal herbs, which can make learning about and using them seem overwhelming. At Hempsley, we’ve chosen 8 herbs to focus on. These herbs were chosen because they are incredibly versatile, are easily accessible (and can be grown yourself if you really want!), and contain some or all of our four primary terpenes.
Interested in learning more?
We're going to be hosting a free, self-paced course on the @hempsleyhealth Instagram Stories on Wednesday, November 29 from 8:00 am — 9:00 pm. We'll be going more in depth on the information presented here, including:
- comparing the various forms of herbs: fresh, dried, infusion, extraction, essential oils
- differences in the four major methods of consumption: edible, topical, tincture, inhalation
- key terpenes and therapeutic uses of our 8 herbs: lavender, peppermint, rosemary, thyme, mullein, rose, chamomile, cannabis
- how to make a: tincture, oil infusion, smoking blend, tea
- 15+ body care and food recipes so that you can make all your holiday gifts this year!
- giveaways from LEVO and the Hempsley education shop!
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Special thanks to Sativa Science Club Founder & CEO Mary J. Poppins for checking this article's accuracy and providing her professional insight. Be sure to follow Sativa Science Club for higher education in cannabis!
- Aragona, Jessica. “A Dietician's View on the Health Benefits of Marijuana.” Leafly, 1 Feb. 2017, www.leafly.com/news/health/a-dietitians-perspective-on-cannabis.
- Balch, Phyllis A., and Stacey J. Bell. Prescription for Herbal Healing. Bottom Line Books, 2014.
- Boskabady, Mohammad Hossein, et al. “Pharmacological Effects of Rosa Damascena.”Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3586833/.
- Foroutan Nia, Amir, et al. “Changes in the Essential Oil Content and Terpene Composition of Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis L.) by Using Plant Biostimulants.” Research Gate, Apr. 2016, www.researchgate.net/publication/301479659_Changes_in_the_essential_oil_content_and_terpene_composition_of_rosemary_Rosmarinus_officinalis_L_by_using_plant_biostimulants.
- Flowers, Frankie, et al. Power Plants: Simple Home Remedies You Can Grow. Collins, 2014.
- IMELOUANE, B, et al. “Chemical Composition and Antimicrobial Activity of Essential Oil of Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) from Eastern Morocco.” International Journal of Agriculture & Biology, 30 Dec. 2008, doi:https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7e34/e0a05ccc62f6800ad5c4f1448f18939e4783.pdf.
- Johnson, Rebecca L., et al. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: the World's Most Effective Healing Plants. National Geographic, 2014.
- “Medicinal Values of Rose.” Herbal Encyclopedia, 11 June 2017, www.cloverleaffarmherbs.com/rose/.
- “Mullein.” Mullein, Michigan Medicine, 6 Aug. 2015, www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2133009.
- Steel, Susannah. Home Herbal: Cook, Brew & Blend Your Own Herbs. DK Publishing, 2011.
Published November 27, 2017